The 50 Best beaches

Whether you're looking for sandy solitude, that perfect wave or space to let the kids run wild, Kate Simon and her team have scoured the country for their favourite spots by the sea

Kate Simon
Saturday 07 July 2012 02:53

The experts:

Clare Gogerty is the editor of Coast (;

Hugo Tagholm is director of Surfers Against Sewage (, which works to protect UK surfers and beaches;

James Berresford is the chief executive of VisitEngland (;

Rachel Wyatt is pollution officer of the Marine Conservation Society (;

Jonathan Knight is the co-founder of UK travel guide website Cool Places (


Winterton on Sea, Norfolk

"A vast stretch of golden sand, regular visits from the nearby seal colony, and magnificent dunes. This is the stuff of the best childhood memories," says Jonathan Knight.

Take Repps Road or Cromer Road off the A149, north of Great Yarmouth

Gwithian, Cornwall

"Three miles of sand, from St Ives to Godrevy Lighthouse, means heaps of room for everyone," says Clare Gogerty. "Surfers, dog walkers and Frisbee players make the most of the space. As the tide goes out, head to The Jam Pot café for a cream tea."

Take the Gwithian Road from Hayle, turn left on to the towans, from where a path leads to the beach

Barmouth, Wales

Between the mountains of Snowdonia and the sea, these sands are perfect for sunbathing, with shops, pubs and restaurants close by amid the pretty slate-roofed town, plus a funfair in the summer.

Take the A496 to Barmouth

L'Erée, Guernsey

A sandy beach with sheltered bathing, rock pools to explore, and cafés and public facilities close to hand. "And it's a natural beauty," says Rachel Wyatt. "The large bay offers panoramic views from the southern tip of Guernsey towards the Hanois lighthouse and the Atlantic beyond."

Take the Route de la Rocque coastal road to L'Erée

Skegness, Lincolnshire

"This resort is stuffed with the traditional seaside-town entertainments that you'd expect from 'the Blackpool of the East'," says Rachel. Yet beyond the amusements, she tips it as "a good base to explore the rest of the Lincolnshire coast, which has earned a reputation for great water quality".

Follow the A52 to Skegness

Woolacombe, Devon

"A true bucket-and-spade beach, Woolacombe won Coast magazine's award for Best Beach in 2012," says Clare. "Its three miles of soft, golden sand are clean, dog-friendly, well patrolled by lifeguards and easily accessible."

Off the A361, six miles southwest of Ilfracombe

Marsden, Tyneside

Once the haunt of smugglers, this cove offers something for everyone. "Take a ride at its thrill-seeker amusement park, meander along the cliff paths (with a view of the famous sea stack), and call in at the restaurant in the cave," suggests Rachel.

Take the A183, to the southern outskirts of South Shields

St Brelade's Bay, Jersey

A lovely sheltered crescent of golden sands, backed by pretty gardens and a prom amply supplied with cafés. Enjoy the view with a delicious ice cream.

Take the coast road off the A13 at St Brelade

Gyllingvase, Falmouth, Cornwall

"Crystal turquoise waters lap at the beach, on a hot summer's day it feels like the Med," says Hugo Tagholm. "I often go rock-pooling here with my wife and son for crabs, gobies, and sea anemones."

A 10-minute walk from Falmouth town centre

Bournemouth Beach, Dorset

Seven miles of sands, with attractions including an oceanarium. "This was the first beach to introduce the family-friendly Kidzone – a safety scheme using colour-coded wristbands and matching beach zones," adds James Berresford.

Take the A338 to Bournemouth

Benone Strand, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

One of the biggest sand dune systems in the UK, from Magilligan Point to Downhill, backs seven miles of "pure beauty" according to Rachel. "Refreshments, loos and parking is close by," she adds.

Off the A2, four miles west of Castlerock

Blackpool, Lancashire

"Ice creams, fish and chips, sticks of rock, donkey rides and deckchairs – Blackpool beach is the essence of the traditional English seaside," says James.

Take the A584 to the centre of Blackpool

Wild beauty:

Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset

"Fantastic for nature watching, it has an official snorkeling trail, and the Jurassic coastline has to be one of the most dramatic backdrops the UK can offer for a day at the beach," says Hugo.

Take the B3075 from the A351, then follow Furzebrook Road to the sea

Mwnt Beach, Cardigan Bay, Wales

"When the sun is out, Cardigan Bay might just be mistaken for the Greek coast, with it's jade waters and pearly white sand. The resident bottlenose dolphins and seals certainly can't get enough," says Jonathan.

Five miles north-east of Cardigan, off the B4548

Dungeness, Kent

Coastal Marmite. You'll either love the bleakness of this headland's vast shingle beach in the shadow of nuclear power stations, its brackish waters a resting point for migrating birdlife, it's open skies a place to gulp the sea air - or you'll hate it.

Off the A259, approach on Dungeness Road out of Lydd or Coast Drive from Littlestone

Blakeney Point, Norfolk

A seal-spotters haven - in breeding season the beach is choc-full of proud sunbathing mothers and downy pups. As you walk along the shore, the seals swim alongside watching you, their black heads bobbing comically between the waves.

Off the A149 at Blakeney

Tentsmuir Sands, Fife, Scotland

There's forest, heath, lochs and an estuary to explore here. See the seals basking near Tentsmuir Point and follow the Seashell Walk across the sands. Pick up the Pine Cone Trails in Tentsmuir Forest, where you might glimpse deer and red squirrels.

As the A914 and A919 meet merge of Leuchars, take the B945 to Tayport

Camber Sands, East Sussex

This vast beach with marram grass-topped dunes is a stunner - its looks favoured by camera crews. "It stood in as an alien planet in Dr Who!" says James. "End your day at The Gallivant Hotel," advises Clare. "The restaurant serves delicious local food at reasonable prices."

Take Camber Road off the A259 at East Guldeford

Dornoch, Highlands, Scotland

Stretching from Embo to Dornoch point, "this beautiful pale-sand beach is backed by wildflower-rich sand dunes," says Rachel. "It's great for spotting bottlenose dolphins and porpoises." Watch osprey diving for fish, too, at the nearby Loch Fleet Nature Reserve.

Follow the signs from the A9 to Dornoch

Holkham, Norfolk

"There's nothing much at Holkham apart from enormous skies, a beach that, at low tide, seems to stretch beyond the horizon, and the distant crash of the ocean. Feel your mind clear as the vast stillness opens up," says Clare.

Off the A149, two miles west of Wells-next-the-Sea

Holy Island, Northumberland

"One of England's most haunting and beautiful places," says James. "It's a sanctuary for wildlife and, from May to July, you'll see thousands of nesting puffins and guillemots, as well as, reportedly, Europe's largest colony of grey seals."

Off the A1, 20 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed

Whitstable, Kent

Many come here for the famous oysters. But this quaint fishing village, with its weather-boarded cottages, beach huts and pebbly shore, also offers a yesteryear day on the beach.

Take the A2990 to Whitstable


Calgary Bay, Isle of Mull, Scotland

"Part of the fun is getting to Calgary Bay, with a scenic train ride from Glasgow to Oban, a stunning ferry ride, and the final exhilarating stretch on winding single-track roads. The reward is starched white sands, steel-blue waters and an end-of-the-world vibe," says Jonathan.

Take the A848 from the ferry

Sugar Sands, Northumberland

"You won't find a sweeter spot than Sugar Sands on this remote coastline, a small but perfectly formed pale-peach beach," says James.

East of Alnwick, leave the A1068 for the B1339 to Longhoughton, where a track leads to the beach

Great Bay, St Martin's, Isles of Scilly

"The blue waters and white sands are distinctly tropical and the climate makes it a hotspot for dolphins in summer," says James. "Hunker down and wiggle your toes in the warm creamy sand," adds Clare.

Great Bay is on the north side of the island, off the main east-west track

Claigan Coral Beach, Isle of Skye, Scotland

"Startlingly white, this beach is composed entirely from sun-bleached algae. The light bouncing from the sea and the algae creates an other-worldly atmosphere," says Clare.

Take the road north from Dunvegan to Claigan. Follow the north-west track from the car park

Strathy Bay, Scotland

Purple northern-marsh orchids are among the flora to spot at these wide sands on the Sutherland coast with excellent views of the Pentland Firth . "You will often have the place to yourself, even on the sunniest of days," says Rachel.

Follow the signs off the A836, 20 miles west of Thurso

Pedn Vounder, Cornwall

"A remote beach in busy Cornwall is hard to come by, but Pedn Vounder beach requires a hike along the coast path, followed by a fairly steep rocky scramble down to its wedge of golden sand," says Jonathan.

Porthcurno is off the B3315, Pedn Vounder is off the coastpath west of the village

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, Wales

The golden sands at this small, sheltered bay, between Stackpole Quay and Stackpole Head in Pembrokeshire, are enclosed by wooded cliffs. "The raw beauty of this place makes it well worth the effort," says Rachel.

Take the cliff path through the sandy dunes off the B4319, five miles south of Pembroke


Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, Cornwall

Get on the sandy cultural trail. Tate St Ives doesn't just stage some great exhibitions, it also offers "a magnificent view of the sands and surf of Porthmeor Beach down below," says Jonathan.

Take the A3074 to St Ives

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Follow in the footsteps of composer Benjamin Britten along this slope of pebbles, which he often used to walk, to The Scallop, a sculpture made in his memory.

Take the A1094 to Aldeburgh

Bamburgh, Northumberland

"For moody, romantic views, little beats this expansive sandy beach, dominated by the gothic silhouette of the ruins of Bamburgh Castle," says Clare.

Off the A1, around 20 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed

Morecambe Sands, Lancashire

Wait till the tide is out to truly admire Morecambe Sands. Its dangers must be respected, so let the Queen's Guide to the Sands, Cedric Robinson, lead you on an eight-mile Cross Bay Walk from Arnside to Grange-over-Sands (

Arnside is on the B5282, four miles from the A6 at Milnthorpe

Brighton, East Sussex

"The Royal Pavilion, the magnificent period terraces and squares, cool shops, buzzing bars, and candy floss on the pier – Brighton is one of those beach towns to visit even when the weather isn't that 'beachy'," says Jonathan.

Take the A259 to Brighton

Seacliff, East Lothian, Scotland

"This beach is favoured by locals, who come for its perfect castle-building sand and views of nearby Tantallon Castle," explains Clare. "Not only does it have the UK's smallest harbour but also fine views of the Bass Rock, a volcanic plug that's home to the world's largest rock gannet colony."

Take a right turn off the A198, 5km north of the Kirklandhill Junction

Osborne House, Isle of Wight

"Queen Victoria's private beach at Osborne House is opening to the public for the first time on 27 July," says James, "and, with mini-golf tournaments and Punch and Judy, it will be a family affair."

Off the A3021, one mile southeast of East Cowes

Whiterocks, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

This beach is backed by limestone cliffs carved by nature's fury with caves and arches, plus it offers views of the haunting ruins of Dunluce Castle. It's also a pebble's throw from The Giant's Causeway.

Off the A2, east of Portrush

Birling Gap, East Sussex

The white cliffs of the Seven Sisters is the location of this beach on the edge of England's South Downs, just along from Beachy Head. "The chalky seawater can look bright turquoise in full sun," says Rachel.

Turn off the A259 at East Dean and follow the road to Birling

South Bank, London

"It's sometimes easy to forget that the Thames is tidal," says Hugo. "At low tide, the South Bank can have exposed areas of sandy foreshore. As a child, I used to go mudlarking in the Docklands, uncovering treasures."

Southern bank of the Thames, central London

Wind and watersports:

Westport Beach, Machrihanish, Scotland

The bluster of the Atlantic makes these three miles of golden sands "a favourite spot for local windsurfers and surfers alike," says Hugo. The beach is framed by the Machrihanish Dunes, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, where butterflies flit about the wild flowers in summer.

Off the A83, west of Campbeltown, on the Mull of Kintyre

Watergate Bay, Cornwall

"The huge expanses of open beach at low tide offer world-class surfing waves," says Hugo. "It also has some excellent après-surf restaurants and accommodation."

Off the B3276, just north of Newquay

Rhossili Bay, Wales

"Follow the camper- vans and salty-haired dudes to this popular surfing beach," says Clare. "In summer, it teems with wetsuit-clad watersports enthusiasts of all ages. An added bonus is the skeletal remains of an oak sailing boat revealed at low tide."

From the A4118, take the B4247 at Scurlage

Rhosneigr, Anglesey, Wales

"This small protected bay – mainly sand with some shingle and pebbles – is perfect for sea kayaking and sailing," says Rachel. Windsurfers also enjoy the space offered by the aptly named Broad Beach.

Turn left off the A55 onto the A4080 towards Rhosneigr

Fraisthorpe Beach, Yorkshire

"Wide open with strong winds, this beach has perfect conditions for both kite flyers and beach-buggy surfers alike," says James.

Take the A165 to Fraisthorpe

Croyde Bay, Devon

"Close to my heart – this is the spot I used to surf most while at university in Exeter," says Hugo. "Flanked by the impressive Baggy and Downend Points, the beach funnels in superb, tubing waves, which are coveted by more experienced surfers."

Turn off the A361 onto the B3231 for Croyde Bay

Sennen Cove, Cornwall

This long sweep of sand and Blue Flag-approved waters is a gift for wind- and wave- powered sports. And the shops and cafés behind the beach are handy for refuelling.

Take the A30 to Sennen

North Bay, Scarborough, Yorkshire

Oilskins on. Hugo rates this Blue Flag beach, just above the castle headland, for its "fantastic surfing the colder months".

Take the A165 to Scarborough

Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall

"The waves and excellent surf schools and shops have made Fistral Beach's reputation as the surf capital of the West," says James. "It's Cornwall's hot venue for the leading surf competitions."

Take the A3058 to Newquay

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire, Wales

"White sands and blue, blue seas. There's limited development nearby so the beach has a real getting-back-to-nature vibe to it," says Hugo. "It's also one of Wales' best surfing beaches, hosting national competitions."

Between Angle and Castlemartin, off the B4320

Newgale, Pembrokeshire, Wales

"For surfing virgins, the pristine Blue Flag beach at Newgale is ideal," says Jonathan. "It's not as scary as the wild, reef breaks at nearby Freshwater West, but there's enough wave action for both the novice and intermediate alike."

Off the A4971 at Newgale

Best for... Young children


This family friendly spot won the 'Coast' magazine Best Beach award this year. It offers three miles of soft sand with plenty of lifeguards on duty

Best for... Fish and chips


A trip to this gem in East Anglia is well worth it just to visit the Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop, which serves some of the best cod this side of Hull

Best for... Clifftop views

Birling Gap

The chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters are often used in films to stand in for the more-famous White Cliffs of Dover. They are well worth a visit in their own right

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.